Griffin House is silent. The reception area here, in what was Vauxhall’s UK headquarters from 1964 until last year, used to feature two booming cascading waterfalls, one each side of the front desk. I’m amazed security guards didn’t sue for hearing loss or tinnitus.
Today, Vauxhall has moved out, the site is set for redevelopment into housing and the occasional van mooching to a security office around the side of the main building is the only notable activity. That and a dark-green Vauxhall Lotus Carlton sitting out the front.
They were all dark green, Lotus Carltons. “There were no options. Take it or leave it: that’s the car,” recalls Malcolm Tearle, who at the time was Vauxhall’s youthful manager of special projects. His career went on to include the likes of the Monaro, VXR8 and VX220.
The Lotus Carlton turned 30 this year. That would be as good a reason as any to revisit it were it not also for the fact that Vauxhall, now under PSA ownership, and Lotus, under Geely, are both in the midst of a resurgence.
In 1990, both companies were part of General Motors. Vauxhall (and to a lesser extent Opel, its mainland-Europe stablemate) had a dowdy image it wanted to shift and Lotus always needed extra work.
The £48,000 Lotus Carlton, a high-performance version of Vauxhall’s big executive saloon, was conceived as a car that could accomplish both. It did, and then a bit more. “The top speed was 176mph, and I think the press were all ‘this isn’t socially responsible’,” says Tearle.
This is true. Even the then editor of Autocar, Bob Murray, wrote that “nobody buying this car could possibly argue he either needs or will be able to use a top whack which is claimed to be around 180mph”, before advocating that Vauxhall should have limited the car to 155mph – something Opel management had proposed.
But Vauxhall wanted to let the car do what it could do. “I did a thing with [then land speed record holder] Richard Noble at Elvington airfield,” Tearle says, “setting top speeds in this and a Monaro. I remember hitting the brake board in the Carlton with the speedo pointing to six o’clock, which we worked out to be 186mph.”